Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut ‘The Virgin Suicides’ has been a popular favourite since its initial release in 1993. The film shortly followed in 1999, with actress’ Kirsten Dunst (Lux Lisbon) and Kathleen Turner (Mrs Lisbon) at its heart. The story line follows the mass suicide of the Lisbon girls and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The main question persists throughout both novel and movie; why did the Lisbon sisters take their lives? Well, as you’ll know if you’ve read the book - or watched the film - we never get the answer to that question. As the novel is written from the perspective of their male classmates, it means we can never really comprehend what was going through the girls’ mind in the build up to their suicide. Therefore, I want to see whether the answer lies within the text, or if like their classmates, we’re never really meant to know what happened.

Eugenides kills off Cecilia in the opening chapter of the book, after her first failed attempt she re-attempts and succeeds. She was the youngest sister at thirteen and its her death that some characters labelled as the catalyst for the rest of the sisters suicides, that take place the following Spring. They say that the sisters suffered ‘post traumatic stress’ following Cecilia’s death, however the suffocating nature of their domesticated life can’t be ignored – or the answer to what compelled Cecilia to take her own life in the first place. When we look at Cecilia, we aren’t given much in terms of her characterisation, as she’s written off within the first fifty pages. The main conversation that we follow in both the novel and movie is when she’s in the hospital following her attempt and the doctor asks her why she tried to kill herself, as she’s “not even old enough to know how bad life gets”, in which she responds saying “obviously Doctor you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl”. The premature teen years are notorious for being awkward in terms of identity, sexuality and being exposed to an adult world. Therefore, can we place Cecilia’s suicide down to a depressive response to growing up, or is it more instead alluding to the conformities and expectations placed upon young teenage girls? I guess Eugenides idea was to never let us know, like the neighbours never know, however if you read between the lines, there are certainly slithers of answers that can be pinned together in an attempt to build a fragmented picture.

The life within the Lisbon household is established very early on. With ‘The Virgin Suicides’ taking place in a small town in the later 20th century, we see very religious parents Mrs and Mr Lisbon being concerned with the girls’ restrictions on boys, alcohol, driving and even just socialising outside of a classroom environment. Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese all display an image of Mary from the Christian Bible before their suicide, potentially adding a religious context to their deaths. In the 1999 adaption of ‘The Virgin Suicides’, we see Lux break her curfew after being (reluctantly) allowed to go to prom, resulting in a complete house lockdown for all the girls – their mother going even as far to pull them out of school. Its from this point we can especially start to see Lux’s mental state decline as she starts sleeping with more boys on her roof and tells her mum, in a distressed state, that she can’t ‘breathe’ in their house. In the exodus of the movie and novel, we know the girls rope the boys into helping them with what they think is an escape plan, but instead results in a distraction for the girls to commit suicide. When we look at the events surrounding the Lisbon sisters’ deaths, it’s unclear as to whether their death could have been a depressive episode, or a response to their apparent PTSD, or their way of escaping their suffocating household, or even an escape from the societal expectations placed upon young girls. Eugenides set out to portray a story of suffering, suicide, sex and most of all confusion, making his novel deserving of the title ‘modern classic’ – meaning the Lisbon family will haunt readers for centuries to come.